Monthly Archives: April 2011

Model 1835 6-pdr Field Gun

Continuing my discussion of the American 6-pdr field gun, I move on to the first of the “bronze age” guns – the Model 1835.  As noted in the previous post, in the first decades of the 19th century, the Army preferred iron field guns due to economy and raw material supply.  But the iron guns proved troublesome in service.  Not waiting for further experiments, the Army shifted to bronze for field gun production.

One factor that probably bolstered the Army’s decision was an opening of domestic raw materials.  Bronze is generally 90% copper and 10% tin.  Prospectors re-discovered copper in Michigan during the 1830s.  This fueled a copper mining boom in the 1840s.  While the U.S. still lacked significant domestic tin sources, the copper from the Upper Peninsula more than satisfied the major component for the guns.

In 1834, the Army designed a new bronze 6-pdr concurrent with similar 9- and 12-pdr field guns and 12- and 24-pdr howitzer designs – all in bronze.  Designated, somewhat retroactively, “Model of 1835,” the new design echoed some of the simplicity seen in the Model 1819 “Walking Sticks.”  The external form included a raised base ring, a reinforce shoulder, and a chase ring, finished off with a moderate muzzle swell and muzzle face ornamentation.

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Model 1835 6-pdr at Manassas

Looking at the breech, this particular example has tap holes which might be for the lock piece used around that time period. The lock consisted of a hammer, which when propelled forward by a pull on the lanyard, would impact a quill priming tube with cap placed on the vent.  Sort of an early form of percussion cap before the friction primer arrived.

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Breech of Model 1835

As mentioned the muzzle area of the Model 1835 incorporated a chase ring and swell.  The muzzle face consisted of a cavetto and a fillet.

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Muzzle of Model 1835

Yes, the Model 1835 is not much different externally than the more familiar Model 1841 6-pdr.  Where it did differ from that later gun was with dimensions and weight.  The chart below compares particulars of the four pre-war production bronze 6-pdr guns.

(NOTE:  The standard source I use for gun particulars are the Army ordnance manuals.  In this case, the Models 1835, 1838, and 1840 lack full listings in the published manuals.  Instead of those primary sources, for this chart I’ve used secondary sources and field measurements.)

The Model 1835 had a 9.8 inch diameter base ring and was 66 inches long overall.  It weighed 743 pounds, giving it a weight ratio (wight of gun compared to weight of solid shot) of 123.8 pounds.  In comparison five years later the Model 1841 was slightly shorter, with a wider base ring, and weighed over 100 pounds more.  At face, such figures indicate even the bronze designs needed more metal than at first anticipated.

For production of the new model, the Army turned to new vendors.  These were the first of many, many guns produced by the Massachusetts firms of Cyrus Alger & Company and N.P. Ames Manufacturing.  Alger delivered 26 guns while Ames produced 31.  Evidence exists, in the form of Ames registry number 32, that the companies produced additional guns, possibly for state or private requirements.

At the same time Alger produced the bronze guns, the Army also contracted with the firm for 13 “malleable iron” guns of the same pattern, but retroactively designated “Pattern of 1836.”  The iron guns weighed about fifty pounds more than the bronze types.  Likely used for testing, three of these guns survive today.  But their service history, if any, is unknown.

With the bronze Model 1835, the Army established a good pattern, even if that needed some improvements.  One would think those improvements would progress with some linear developments.  But as we shall see next, the Model 1838 was a step back in some measures.

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Aside from on site notes and links provided above, sources consulted for this post were:

Birkhimer, William, Historical Sketch of the Organization, Administration, Material and Tactics of the Artillery, United States Army.  Washington:  James J. Chapman, 1884.  Particularly pages 275-9 discussing the evolution of the American systems of artillery.

Hazlett, James C., Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks. Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, Revised Edition. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, 4th Edition. Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press, 1984.

Ankers’ Shop Battlefield to get Historical Marker

And another marker for Loudoun County early in the Sesquicentennial!

On June July 16, in conjunction with groundbreaking for the Ankers Family Memorial Garden, Northern Virginia Community College unveils a Civil War Trails marker interpreting the battle of Ankers’ Shop, or Second Dranesville.  I posted the full event notice over on the Loudoun Civil War Roundtable Website.

Just a bit of background on the battle:  On February 22, 1864 Confederates under Lieutenant Colonel John S. Mosby ambushed a detachment of Federal cavalry under Captain J. Sewell Reed, consisting of elements of the 2nd Massachusetts and 16th New York Cavalry.  Mosby’s men killed 12 (including Reed), wounded  25 and captured 70, with a loss of one killed and five wounded.

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Ankerage Site Before the Garden was Marked Off

From an operational standpoint, study of this battle offers an example of  Federal operations against Mosby and how Mosby countered those patrols.  Just two days earlier Mosby had blunted an attack by Cole’s Maryland Cavalry near Piedmont Station (modern Deleplane) in Fauquier County.  Hearing of Reed’s patrol into eastern Loudoun, Mosby moved to stop that incursion on February 21.  Covering the better part of two of Virginia’s larger counties, Mosby stopped both patrols.

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The Ankerage Plaque

Sitting just off Leesburg Pike, the Ankers’ Shop and the family home “Ankerage” saw much traffic during the war and of course even more so today.   Indeed I drive past the site almost every work day.  The site is today on the campus of the Northern Virginia Community College – Loudoun Campus.  A memorial plaque currently notes the family cemetery were both Federal and Confederate were buried during the war.  This spot was long on my “Needs a Marker” list.  So thanks to efforts by the college and the Ankers Family Memorial Gardens, I’ll be able to check this one off.

Let me also note that the college is accepting donations to complete the memorial garden.  Details are posted on the Roundtable website.

6-pdr Guns in the “Iron Age”

Let me resume discussion of 6-pdr field guns, picking up from the earlier post about guns from the colonial and revolutionary period.  At the close of the War of 1812, the U.S. Army had on hand a wide array of cannons, both in terms of caliber, design, and origin.  Gun-making at that time had emerged from an “art” to a “science.”  In Europe, all combatants in the Napoleonic era adopted “systems” of artillery which standardized calibers, gun forms, ammunition sizes, carriages, implements, and other associated equipment.  And the Americans would soon follow suit.

While Europeans preferred bronze for field pieces, at least in those early decades of the 19th century, the Americans opted for iron.  Lacking large sources of copper or tin (which were discovered later as the new nation expanded), Americans opted to use the very plentiful iron ore.  Therefore this period of American gun-making is often known as the “iron age.” Cheaper and harder than bronze, iron had some technical advantages.  But at the same time brittle iron required careful construction and casting (which somewhat negated the price advantage over bronze!).  There in lay the problem facing American gun-makers and ordnance officers, essentially right up to the eve of the Civil War.  And since the 6-pdr guns were the backbone of the field artillery, the type history reveals many of the solutions offered to address the problem.

During the twenty-five years after the last war with Britain, American foundries produced several series and a few experimental batches of cast iron 6-pdr guns.  These met with varying degrees of success, but none completely satisfied the Army’s performance requirements.

Columbia Foundry produced at least 40 (probably more) 6-pdr field guns sometime in 1815-1820.  These followed the patterns established in the 18th century for the most part.  Two of these are on display today at Fort Niagara, New York.  These guns lacked rimbases attaching the trunnions to the gun, and retained the vent field ring of earlier forms.  (I refer to these by the completely arbitrary designation “Pattern of 1815″)

Bellona Foundry (then known as John Clarke & Co.) produced 122 in 1820-21.  These guns continued to follow the older forms.  Today one of those guns is identified, and only tentatively at that, on display in Batavia, New York.  (I refer to these with another arbitrary designation – Bellona Pattern of 1820.)

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Tentative Bellona 6-pdr Gun

With the establishment of a “system of artillery” in 1819, the Ordnance Department provided drawings to the McClurg Foundry (later Fort Pitt Foundry) in Pittsburgh with a contract for 100 guns.   McClurg delivered 74 in 1821-22, with an unknown number rejected.   These “Model 1819″ are often identified by the nickname “Walking Sticks” due to their slim appearance accentuated by their length.  Measuring 66 inches from breech to muzzle, these were longer than any regulation 6-pdrs.   The guns weighed 742 pounds.

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Model 1819 “Walking Stick”

The “Walking Sticks” foreshadowed the later simplified exterior forms with only a base ring, reinforce shoulder and rather abrupt muzzle swell interrupting an otherwise smooth design.  The Model 1819 introduced rimbases to strengthen the trunnions.

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Trunnions and Acceptance Stamp on “Walking Stick”

The vent of the “Walking Sticks” retained a key-hole shaped pan, indicating the use of matches when firing.

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Vent of Walking Stick

The “Walking Sticks” are perhaps the oldest 6-pdrs which have at least a reasonable claim to be “Civil War Guns.”   A plaque fixed to one example at Chickamauga indicates the gun was “captured and recaptured” during the September 1863 battle.

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Walking Stick at Chickamauga

But the weakness of the design lay in the diameter of the breech – a scant 10-inches for the base ring.  With such little iron around the chamber, the “sticks” tended to burst.  In response, McClurg produced another 90 guns to a revised design.  The overall length dropped to 51 inches, with the base ring diameter increased to 11 inches.  These new guns weighed 776 pounds.  I’ve not seen the guns, but some describe them as “fat” compared to the “Walking Sticks.”  (Some references consider these 6-pdr Model or Pattern 1827 field guns)

Columbia Foundry (Washington, D.C.) offered two experimental guns in 1833 which increased weight to 906 pounds.  Both guns failed proofing.  Following that setback, Columbia produced three 6-pdrs for an “experimental battery.”  After successful tests, the Army ordered forty more.  One of those sits in a casemate at Fort Pulaski, Georgia today.  The form revived both the vent field ring and chase ring of older patterns.  But note the addition of a lock-piece block over the vent.    The new form is known as Model or Pattern of 1834.

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Columbia 6-pdr Field Gun at Fort Pulaski

The gun measured 52 inches from base ring to muzzle and weighed 845 pounds.  The base ring measured 11.4 inches in diameter.   Later Penn Foundry (was McClurg, and of course later Fort Pitt… you got to keep up with the names here!)  in Pittsburgh produced 113 more of this Model.  The Army rejected at least 22 of the lot in proofing.  The remainder suffered from the same lack of endurance of the earlier iron guns.

Thus far the Army’s ordnance officers focused on the breech thickness and exterior form.  In 1834 the Army asked West Point Foundry to produce four bronze 6-pdrs for testing.  Three of the lot exhibited casting flaws and cavities, a common problem with bronze.  Later in 1835 the Army asked West Point to try their hand at cast iron guns, calling for two “long” and two “short” 6-pdrs.  This set also failed to meet expectations.

So over twenty-five years, four gun-makers delivered just under 500 iron guns in at least seven patterns.  Yet the iron guns failed to meet endurance expectations.  While the early “Walking Sticks” certainly lacked sufficient metal at the breech, the chief problem with the later guns lay with the metal.  In the 1830s the foundries switched to hot-blast furnaces.  Only in the 1840s did Lieutenant Louis A. de Barth determine this technique resulted in low tensile strength guns.  But long before the Ordnance Department called for the use of cold-blast furnaces, the Army switched 6-pdr production to bronze.

I’ll look at the first of those “bronze age” guns next.

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Aside from on site notes and links provided above, sources consulted for this post were:

Birkhimer, William, Historical Sketch of the Organization, Administration, Material and Tactics of the Artillery, United States Army.  Washington:  James J. Chapman, 1884.  Particularly pages 275-9 discussing the evolution of the American systems of artillery.

Hazlett, James C., Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks. Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, Revised Edition. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, 4th Edition. Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press, 1984.